Who are you?
“Hi there, I’m Faisal Albader, I work in the petroleum sector, and I’m one of the local cyclists here in Kuwait.”
What got you into cycling? And how long have you been cycling?
“Well, I split my experience in cycling into two stages, the first during my childhood and the second during my recent adult years. My foundation stage with cycling was identical to the majority of my peers; as kids, we had bikes to ride around the block, and the whole town, being mischievous, as kids tend to be. We didn’t really care about or understand the healthy aspect of riding bikes because we simply wanted to just ride around.
That foundation stage lasted until early teenage years, and I dropped it completely right after the invasion (Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990). Cycling remained forgotten for a while after that since, again, it was just a pastime after all.
Up until I was in my early 30s, I was still into sports, such as running and swimming. Regardless of that, my weight peaked around then, getting into the triple digits, 114kg being the peak. Thankfully though, I didn’t see my weight as a barrier to keeping up with my sports. I’m really passionate about running and swimming back then and today.
I used to run up to five times a week in the winter and swim up to 4 times a week, depending on the season. None of this was taken in the scope of professionality; I just wanted to be healthy and reduce my weight at that time. I’m simply into being sporty as much as I can.
Again, I was into sports most of my life, yet I was overweight, which is pretty common to see around. However, the loudest call came when I found out that my weight was becoming a barrier to doing the simplest of things, such as praying.
Doctors discovered some sort of a curable but serious injury in my back that they believed was going to restrict me from normal life. I was instructed not to kneel, bow or prostrate during prayer and, instead, sit down on a chair going forward.
That really hit home for me, as I was in my early 30s at that time, especially seeing people who were twice if not 3 times older practicing their lives with no issue. May Allah bless and protect them. I simply couldn’t accept that fact, given how much I loved sports. This was the biggest wake-up call for me to reduce my weight even more and really inflect positive change in myself.
I started with cardio-centric sports, which helped me bring down my weight into the double digits. I also picked up weightlifting after that for about 2 years. However, I realized that I hated doing all of this so much that I stopped all sports for about 3 years. That lifestyle was too restrictive for me; with all the special diets, schedules, and pressure to perform, it just didn’t feel right at all.
In 2016, a close friend called to see if I wanted to tag along with him to the bike shop (such stores are toy stores that sell cheap bikes) to pick up his new bike, so I did. That got my gears turning. I asked myself, “well, since you hate all the sports that you practiced in the past, why not try cycling and feel it out?”
The wake-up call that encouraged me to live a healthy life was the same reason I jumped back into trying to lose weight, be healthier, and quite frankly wear the clothes I wanted, and not resort to having them custom made!”
Did someone or something inspire you to start riding? Who?
“Yes, the person who inspired me to take that leap of faith was my friend Ali Sadiq. He pushed me to get a bike, knowing that I had the idea in mind for a while, but never really acted on it. Ali & I were in the same boat, both overweight and in need of leading a healthier lifestyle.
As I said earlier, he asked me to join him in picking up his new bike, and I accompanied him. Again, the idea was brewing in my head, and in February 2016, I decided to buy a bike. The ironic thing was that we knew nothing about bikes. I had no idea what the difference was between a mountain bike, road, or commuter; I simply knew that they were all bikes. After chatting with the workers at the shop, we settled on getting Mountain bikes, given the terrible conditions of the roads here in the country. It also seemed like a better option in case we wanted to ride on different terrains.
Throughout 2016, I only rode my bike around 10 times; that’s it. But as things change over time, I decided to give it another honest try.
The second push came from an Mtb group by Ahmed Albkhait, who I encountered at the Scientific Center on the coast. They frequently start from the Port in Alsalmia and ride all the way to Kuwait’s tower and KPC (roughly 30-mile roundtrip). I asked him if I could join his group, and he delightfully agreed to do so. You could say that was my first real experience in the world of cycling.
That group was a great community for us newcomers; they taught me how to adjust my seat height, use the gears, and all that jazz. They really taught me the basics of riding! I kept up with the group rides and the training as I aspired to be stronger and faster than Ahmed since he was the strongest in the group.
That was the norm until I started running into different groups all over the place. There was one particular group that intrigued my interest, led by someone called Abu Abdullah, one of the core members of the cycling community in Kuwait.
I reached out to Abu Abdullah over Instagram to see if I could join his group for a ride. He was more than happy to, but then he asked about what kind of bike I had. “Mountain,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you ride with us; we’re a group of road cyclists, and it's best if you have a road bike. The group moves fast, and I don’t want you to risk getting dropped or lost,” Said Abu Abdullah.
“I don’t think you need to worry about that, I’m not a kid, and I know my way around if I do get dropped,” I said. Even though he was trying to politely ask me not to join the, given that he had already stated the rules of the group, he eventually agreed to let me join them.
I felt a bit guilty that I forced him to allow me to join them, so after a few hours, I made up an excuse that I couldn’t join them. As you might know, that youthful eagerness can linger on for a while, and that interaction didn’t escape me for a while. “I know I’m good enough to join them; how can I not be able to keep up with them?” I was jealous and young.
The third and last push came a month past that point, and I deiced to buy a road bike. My friend Abdulrahman Almansoor, who rides for the Kuwaiti national cycling team, helped me choose the right road bike and start the current phase I’m in. He offered guidance and help throughout the learning phase and eventually got me to a point where I joined the strongest group in the country, the CCC (a fast-paced, drop ride)"
What was your best ride ever?
“Although I just had done my biggest ride ever, which was a 300km ride to the southern border and back, I have to say that the best ride has to be when I rode from the northern to the southern border with my girlfriend Catherine, which was a 243km ride.
I couldn’t stop thinking about doing that ride for a while, and I spent months planning it out. As you know, the weather in Kuwait can be extreme, from deadly hot temperatures to very windy winter days. Although I don’t like winter, I didn’t want to do it in the summer anyway. The perfect window is narrow and depends on the direction of the wind.
We decided that Friday is the best day to do it, given that the whole country is on holiday, meaning there will be fewer cars and trucks on the road. The next piece of the puzzle was making sure we got wind blowing from the north so that we get tailwind all the way south. The funny thing was that the wind would blow toward the south all week, but as soon as the weekend came, it flipped in the opposite direction.
It remained like that, and I was getting desperate to just go out and do it. March of 2020 looked like a good opportunity for that, but then COVID happened, followed by the tight lockdown the country went through. So everything went put on hold till we can find another chance. Then came the summer, then yet another COVID wave and another lockdown."
When things simmered down a bit, I just decided that the coming Friday was going to be the day, regardless of the weather and anything. So Catherine and I originally wanted to ride over Jaber’s Bridge. However, the government had just banned cyclists yet again from riding over it due to the recent hit-and-run that killed one of our group mates.
The Bridge was a more direct way to cross the gulf of Kuwait. Instead, we decided to take the second best option, which was to go around the whole gulf and into Jaber Al Ahmed city and across Doha’s causeway and into the downtown area by Kuwait Towers and all the way to the southern border from there.
Again, that’s the best ride I’ve ever done and arguably the most dangerous as well. We started at night in the north on a pitch-black night in an area known to have frequent illegal car races and lots of folks enjoying the desert.
Our group was worried about our safety and well-being. One of the guys was adamant about tailgating us throughout the first 60 kilometers, ensuring our safety throughout the darkest part of the ride. I mean, we were equipped with everything we needed. We had lights and a car radar to look out for those distracted drivers. But as you might know, you can only do so much when it comes to careless drivers. And truthfully, we were frightened by the dangerous driving patterns in Kuwait.
Regardless though, that was the best and most amazing ride I’ve ever done to this day. Even after completing the 300k ride a few weeks ago!”
What does cycling mean to you?
“I don’t really know how I can describe this. It’s a new life, a whole new world. It means everything to me. It positively impacted my life on so many levels, physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Just thinking about this question, I find myself smiling! I really don’t know how to compose what I feel towards cycling, but it is my new life and what brings me joy right now.”
What do you need as a cyclist in Kuwait?
“We’re honestly not asking for much; what we need is ensuring the safety of cyclists. Ensuring that they will return to their homes and families safe and sound after their ride. We have an iconic coastal road that is not being taken advantage of properly, and its potential is even greater than we can imagine.
We need bike lanes and bike paths; we demand that our basic needs be met. For example, I live near the 6th ring road (a major highway), and the coastal road near the Jumeirah hotel is pretty much not undeveloped. Why do we need an exceedingly wide coastal front that is barely being used? Why do we need 3 wide car lanes on what is supposed to be a place that attracts visitors?
I’ve thought about this for a while, and I seriously see no need to have that bricked-up coastal front left as is. It's in the country's interest to develop that coastal area to accommodate all sorts of users and not just cars. There could easily be a paved bike path that spans the coastal line from the KPC in the north to the hotel in the southeast. Seriously, they are missing out on a great opportunity to solve a lot of issues that have been left as is for decades."
These potential paths are not just for us cyclists but for those who want to commute by bike or go for an afternoon stroll. Not everything has to be car-centric. I mean, think about the large population that can't afford to buy and maintain a car; why not provide them with an alternative to commute to work?
The benefits don’t stop there either; this bike path can really eliminate other problems such as driver aggression towards us cyclists, distracted and reckless drivers, and even put an end to the many tickets we get from police officers for an issue that we have no control over!
Another example would be Jaber Al Ahmed city, which happens to be in a great location with lots of open space around it that is not being taken advantage of. There’s so much room for a cycling path around the area. For example, a 3-meter-wide bike line in each direction is more than achievable, which would be a great addition to the cycling community in Kuwait.
AlFintas is also another example of a location with a useless coastal front that’s underused. Again, A cycling path over there would be an indispensable addition to the area that could serve a large population of cyclists and commuters, ensuring their safety and well-being.
This is just a first step that will bring much more than cycling paths. Projects like these encourage people to participate in cycling and other sports when they know that they are safe to do so.
Another thing is Jaber bridge; it's currently just acting as a track for illegal racing and connects the north and south coasts of the gulf. The bridge has great potential to be a unique multiuse path that will diversify the uses of the bridge.
Lastly, officials and distributors need to work on bringing down the tax costs (importation tax) on sporting goods in Kuwait. This is just another hoop to jump through to practice our sport. This presents a challenge for the few bike shops in Kuwait to make a profit, earn a living, and encourage others to pick up sports as a lifestyle.